Lighthouse In Sunderland, Tyne And Wear
A stunning example of a lighthouse in Sunderland with a parabolic pier.
Roker Lighthouse and Pier is a 'must see' part of Sunderland. I love the aesthetically pleasing curved pier and magnificent Lighthouse. It is a photographer's paradise and worth the bracing walk along the 609m of pier open to the public except in bad weather.
This is the work of engineer Henry Hay Wake and has stood for over 119 years. As a 25 year old in 1868 he was Chief Engineer of the river Wear Commission. He then designed, engineered and constructed Roker Pier, Tunnel and Lighthouse between 1885 and 1903.
The Pier sits on the mouth of the River Wear, and with the South Pier it protects the 125 acres of the harbour and the older inner harbour.
We booked a Pier and Lighthouse tour and were in for quite a few surprises. Firstly our mission was to go undercover! We were taken along the Victorian tunnel which lies beneath the Pier. There are a few skylights and remains of Victorian gas lamps, and plenty of corroded pipework.
We were told not to touch 'anything' as the 'deadly lurgy' can strike!! This is mainly due to gull guano that infiltrates it. Our guides stopped us in the middle of the tunnel, turned off their torches and demonstrated total darkness at this point. You would never see a thing, and to think the lighthouse keepers would walk up and back this tunnel sometimes at speed. The tunnel also slopes, which can be a little disconcerting to the fragile.
The pier took 17 years to build and 1 year for the lighthouse to be built. The pier is made from cast concrete, each one tailor made as the pier curves. It was made with a tunnel for refuelling (with gas and water) the massive Goliath crane and as a means for the lighthouse keepers to enter and exit the lighthouse.
The keepers did not sleep in the lighthouse, they lived in the blue cottage at the end of the pier which is now a chip shop and ice cream 'parlour'. The Golith crane, a steel vesseled boat called the Sandrail and a barge called Concrete were designed by Henry Hay Wake with specific jobs for building The pier.
The tunnel comes out inside the lighthouse to the basement which is the first of 7 floors. You can hear gurgling water at this level from the tidal gauge. This is enough to put anyone off spending the night here!
What makes this lighthouse different is the craftsmanship and finish inside. There is wood paneling, parquet flooring and especially made ceramic tiles. Very much a show piece of its time.
The ground floor is the engine room. It housed the 2 gas engines that powered the fog horn which was originally up on the parapet. Don't ask how much those remade tiles cost.... (£7,000!!)
Each floor has a different set of stairs more like ladders the higher you go. One set are definitely bespoke curved stairs/ladders. The windows were designed to withstand the battering from the weather. In November 2016 waves as high as the lighthouse were seen and the galeforce winds and waves took away much of the railing and coping stones along the pier. Storm Arwen at the end of 2021 gave it a good belabouring. The pier is closed when the waves get too big.
As you go up you can see the appealing curved pier. Ergonomically designed. Possibly a parabola?
Nearer the top is the optic.There have been a few, each one being an improvement on the last. The lighthouse keeper would have to periodically go round the mezzanine floor on the outside. for cleaning and maintenance, definitely not for the faint hearted! The light flashes every 5 seconds and now has a range of 22 miles.
Looking up 75 feet at the red and grey Aberdeen granite one marvels at how it only took a year to build.
There are many interesting facts and oddities about the pier and lighthouse of which the volunteers do a grand job with tours and it's worth booking and buying a guide book afterwards. Check out the Roker Pier website for more information.
Place contributed by Rosalind Parker
Thanks for reading through and getting to the end of this post. I enjoy exploring the Fabulous North (Especially as a Southerner residing up North). I like 'snippets' of information, and more so, if they are obscure, amusing or meaningful. The photographs are taken on a mobile phone, without any enhancements.
A 19th Century Windmill in Fulwell, built for Joseph Swan in 1806.
14th century gatehouse tower built by Sir William Hylton.
Decommissioned leading lights in North Shields.
A lighthouse situated 100m inland in Bath Terrace, Blyth.